Fire from the cliffs of hell.

Thousands of American and Allied troops stepped from the tractable bow ramps of their landing crafts into waist-deep water as hellfire rained from the bluffs above the beaches at Normandy. Who can imagine the gut-wrenching experience of these young men, boys really, wading toward the shore, rifles held high. The human carnage all around them unleashing an intense fear, almost a certainty, that this was where their life would end.

From the sky, other comrades in arms jumped into the unknown, scattered far from their drop locations so meticulously planned for months.

Steven Spielberg’s masterful depiction of this chaos in “Saving Private Ryan,” one of my all-time favorite films, haunts me every time I watch it. I’m filled with equal parts awe and horror.

June 6, 1944. The invasion of the beaches at Normandy by Allied troops during World War II.

Today, eighty years later, a 104-year-old veteran, Steven Melnikoff, joined in the commemoration to honor his brothers in arms. He’s one of a handful of those heroes left. At age 24 on that D-Day, he and thousands like him did their duty to country, and to the men on their right and their left, with great valor. He was decorated for bravery on what history remembers as “The Longest Day.”

Asked in a Fox News interview yesterday to share his thoughts about the current course of our country, he sounded an alarm.

“I see some things that I really don’t like,” he said. “I was there (in 1939, 1938) and this feeling that we have—the people are so absorbed with themselves—they’re not the way we were.”

And on this day…

June 6, 1799, one of America’s great statesmen died. A little-known part of Patrick Henry’s legacy to the American people are these words that appeared on the back of his Stamp Act resolves:

“Whether this will prove a blessing or curse, will depend upon the use our people make of the blessings which a gracious God hath bestowed on us. If they are wise, they will be great and happy. If they are of a contrary character, they will be miserable. Righteousness alone can exalt them as a nation. Reader! Whoever thou art, remember this; and in thy sphere practice virtue thyself, and encourage it in others.”

American broadcast journalist and author Tom Brokaw called Steven Melnikoff’s contemporaries “The Greatest Generation.” No generation is perfect. But it does seem the folks from my parents’ time, the men who stormed the Normandy beaches and the women at home who kept the country and its war effort running, intuitively understood the essence and importance of Patrick Henry’s words. So did the colonists of his generation.

The blessings of a gracious God…wisdom…righteousness…virtue…and duty.

So…today, and on future anniversaries of June 6 for as long as I live, I will be mindful of what our forefathers sacrificed so we too can enjoy the bounty of this great nation.